Friday, May 30, 2008

Remembering Paula Gunn Allen

It will be thirty years ago this August when I first had the honor of meeting Paula Gunn Allen. I was a new student, transferring from Indiana University to Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, ready to begin my sophomore year in the fall of 1978. I was all of nineteen years old, and I remember distinctly sitting down in Professor Allen's class - I believe it was called American Indian Philosophy and being blown away by her presence. I had chosen Fort Lewis College because of its strong Native curriculum and was eager to learn all I could about Native culture, poetry, literature and art. Professor Allen supplied many excellent lessons in Native culture, philosophy, literature and poetry. It is with great sadness that I learned yesterday of her death from lung cancer.

After two years at Fort Lewis College I transferred back to Indiana University to finish my degree in English literature, but I stayed in touch with Paula. We met in New York City after I graduated and took a job with People magazine. I went to a poetry reading that Paula did in NYC, and I still have a treasured signed copy of one of Paula's first books of poetry - A Cannon Between My Knees - in which she wrote "To Faye, who I think is a twin of the psychic kind, Paula."

It is thirty-one years since she directed the MLA-NEH Summer Seminar on Contemporary Native American Literature, held in Flagstaff in 1977. She edited the volume that came out of that seminar: STUDIES IN AMERICAN INDIAN LITERATURE: CRITICAL ESSAYS AND COURSE DESIGNS (1983), the first book on teaching this literature. Her SACRED HOOP: RECOVERING THE FEMININE IN AMERICAN INDIAN TRADITIONS (1986) influenced many scholars. A very talented creative writer, Paula published several volumes of poetry and a novel, THE WOMAN WHO OWNED THE SHADOWS (1983). She also edited collections of Native American literature. Her most recent book was POCAHONTAS: MEDICINE WOMAN, SPY, ENTREPRENEUR, DIPLOMAT (2003).

Paula Gunn Allen died on May 29th at 10:43 p.m. She will be buried in Fort Bragg, California. Those who wish to memorialize her are encouraged to make donations in her memory to the Lannan Foundation; last year, it gave her a two-year fellowship.

Here's a link to a biography and a bibliography of Paula Gunn Allen and her work.

If you would like to visit Paula's memorial page, please see Paula Gunn Allen Online Memorial.

1 comment:

Leslie said...

A memorial website has been created by some of Paula's family and friends at www.paulagunnallen.net
Please visit it and leave your messages in the guest book. Details on a future memorial service will be posted there.